More to Mercurio than just strictly ballroom

Judgment day: Our Stars of Hastings Dance for Cancer will be judged by the star of Strictly Ballroom, Paul Mercurio.
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Choreographer, dancer, chef, brewer, actor, television presenter, and now special guest judge at Stars of Hastings Dance for Cancer –Paul Mercurio is a man of many talents.

On November 25, he will give his professional judgmentofthe dance routines of the nine businessmen and women at the gala fundraiser at Rydges Port Macquarie.

The amateur dancershave been stepping outside their comfort zones during the past 12weeks with dance teachers from across the Hastings.Mercurio knows about being in the spotlight, and alsoabout stepping outside your comfort zone.

“Back in the ‘70s I would watch old movies on a Saturday afternoon and loved seeing Danny Kaye and Elvis films. After watching an Elvis movie one time, I told my mother I wanted to dance,” the family man says.

He took up ballet, tapand jazz and was “bullied big time”. “If you were a young boy doing ballet, you were gay. So I was bullied by the tough guys, and then I was bullied by the gay guys who would try to crack on to me.”

But he never considered giving it up. Mecurio’s last performance with Sydney Dance Company was in Piano Sonata in 1992 after 10 years. However, he continued choreographing for the company until 1997, and for his own dance company the Australian ChoreographicEnsemble (ACE), which he had for about three years.

Mecurio became a household name in 1992, when he starred as the brash Scott Hastings in Strictly Ballroom. His careeras a dancer and choreographer on the world stage was quite full before Baz Luhrmann cast him in the role, but it certainly gave him notoriety in different circles.

He has appeared in more than 10 other movies and became known as the more compassionate judge on Dancing with the Stars from 2005 until 2009. “I was told I was ‘too nice’ and ‘too genuine’, so they didn’t renew my contract,” Mercurio says.

Our Hastings personalities can take comfort from that statement, knowing he won’t be too hard on their technique. “I am really looking forward to it. These people are showing enormous community spirit which is very positive.”

From ballet to a cooking show seems like a leap, but Mecurio says he has always like food. “When I was studying backin Perth, I was head chef at Red Rooster Hampton Hills. Andwhile I was at the Australian Ballet School, I worked at Taco Bell.”

Mecurio tried his hand at operating a restaurant -Merc’s Bier Cafe. “It was a good experience, withmy food and concept, but I was let down.” It hasn’t left a bad taste in his mouth –pardon the pun, and he hopes to resurrect the idea in the future.

“Brewing beer is cooking and both are as creative as choreographing a ballet. I’ve always been a story teller and nourishing other people’s soulsand spirits can be done with ballet or food.”

He says he has always been a bit of a gypsy, and looks forward to settling into something with a bit of longevity. In the meantime, he joins Cameron Marshall and last year’s People’s Choice winner Jane Hillsdon on the judging panel at Stars of Hastings Dance for Cancer.

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